It's rained today and is rather chilly so what better to do than make a quick trip to a cold and windy beach for a couple of buckets of sand and beating a hasty retreat (but not before one of of us (not me!) got soaked to the skin by larking about in the boisterous incoming waves) to mess about, making either what you may term "Seaside Art" or "Sand Pies with Plaster of Paris Custard"!
Whatever you call it, this is a lot of fun and you can do it while on holiday by the sea or when you've got home, even with a pile of shells collected on holidays from years ago that you have kept somewhere. I did this first with H when he was three on holiday in Anglesey and we still have the result hanging on the wall at home - it's a popular and perfectly manageable activity with very little ones but equally fun when your three-year-old is a teenager and supervises you rather than the other way round, as the following selected quotations illustrate: "What are you doing with that?" "Look at the mess you've made!" "For goodness' sake, put that camera down before you set it in plaster as well!" "No, I think you'd better let me do that!"
a selection of plastic trays of assorted shapes and sizes - old (cleaned) food trays or cream / yoghurt pots are great. Doesn't matter if they are a bit flimsy - a bit of flexibility in the plastic comes in handy for the unmoulding. They do need to be free from holes; if they aren't, line them carefully with cling film. Cling film also makes the moulds easier to turn out so if there isn't much flexibility in your container I would advise using it to line them with anyway. I should have done this with the little square containers you can see in the pic, as they were almost impossible to turn out.
sand - ideally finer sand than what I've used here but the coarse sand I used today has worked OK; enough to fill your containers not quite to the top. A child's seaside bucketful will be plenty for a number of containers;
an assortment of shells, small pretty pebbles, bits of sea glass if you are lucky enough to find it, even the odd pretty fragment of broken china;
plaster of Paris (obtainable from art / craft shops);
an old plastic jug to mix the plaster in and an old balloon whisk or fork to whisk it up with;
cold water in another jug to mix;
plenty of running water on hand to rinse things as you go to avoid anything setting where you don't want it (!).
OK here's what you do:
Fill your plastic containers to within about half an inch of the top with sand. Smooth it and tap it as flat as you can. (I do like making sand pies!)
Now arrange your shells, pebbles etc on the top, upside down. Don't forget to turn each object apparently the wrong way up as the surface that you see of each placed object will be hidden in the plaster and the surface that you don't see, will be visible once you've unmoulded your "art". I find it helpful to arrange my design as I want it to look on the work surface and then turn each object over as I place it in the sand. You want to press each shell slightly into the sand so that you achieve a three-dimensional effect to your finished "piece".
Once you you've done this, it's time to make up the plaster. (What fun this is!) Plaster of Paris is messy stuff(!) so wear an apron and if you are doing this with tinies, it's best probably for you to do this bit rather than allow little hands to do the mixing. Put some plaster of Paris powder into your old plastic jug and add enough water to make it the consistency of thick gloopy custard or thick double cream. Don't do what I did with one batch this afternoon and make it too thin, as, if it isn't thick enough, it flows too readily into crevices you'd rather were left free of it. Whisk the mixture well to avoid lumps and without delaying, pour carefully into the tops of your containers almost up to the rim. You may want to adjust the positioning of your string so that is stays roughly central once you've poured in the plaster.
Keeping the containers level tap the bases gently on the work surface, if necessary, to make sure the plaster is as level as possible but don't overdo it or you will disrupt your arrangement. Less is more here.
Leave the plaster to set undisturbed. It doesn't take long - about an hour or so.
Do not leave your jug and whisk undisturbed, or they too will set! Rinse straightaway under plenty of running cold water and they will clean up fine. You may need to mix up several batches of plaster if you are making a number of these. I find it's better to mix it in smallish quantities and repeat the process if necessary rather than trying to work with too much at a time. About a cup of plaster powder at a go works well. Rinse the jug and whisk each time before mixing a new batch though.
Now for the exciting bit! Unmoulding things is always exciting, in my book! Once the plaster is set, get a bucket or washing up bowl to catch the sand and turn your moulds carefully upside down over the empty container. Some of the sand will have adhered to the plaster that wasn't covered by shells etc and your shells and pebbles and any other bits of pieces should be set firmly in place. Now that the plaster has gone "off" it's safe to rinse under the cold tap to get rid of the excess sand, if it doesn't brush off easily with your fingers.
Prop or hang your "art" up and admire it and allow it to dry off completely!
They make great bathroom decorations or you can hang them anywhere to remind you of the seaside.
Time to think about making supper - now is that flour or plaster of Paris?!
Could be interesting pastry in the quiche this evening!